Clearing, Pruning, and Preparing
It’s still cold outside but February feels very much like a turning point in the garden. Spring’s imminent arrival is signalled by lengthening days and bulbs slowly emerging from the ground. Our woodland garden is decorated by shivering snowdrops and bright yellow winter aconites.
It’s now time to clear the herbaceous borders of all the remaining stems and leaves from the previous year, that were left in place for the birds and insects over winter. Being mindful to work when it’s as dry underfoot as possible, to avoid unduly compressing the soil, use your secateurs to cut back perennials as close to the base as possible and clear debris away to the compost heap. Dig out the roots of any weeds that are revealed in the process, destroying on the bonfire if possible those from bindweed, buttercups and nettles that are likely to reshoot. To finish off, it’s important to mulch in amongst the plant crowns and bulbs with a 5cm layer of organic matter that will enrich the soil, suppress weeds, help retain moisture later on in the season and look good too.
Pruning of wisteria can also be done now, with summer side shoots coming off the main framework being taken back to two or three buds. Shrubs such as cornus and salix that are grown for their winter stems, can be cut back down to their bases. Buddleia and summer flowering clematis should be pruned towards the end of the month before active growth begins, to within a couple buds of the old wood. Mop-headed hydrangeas can be deadheaded, back to a strong pair of shoots, and old wood thinned out by a third to encourage new growth. Winter flowering shrubs such as mahonia and Viburnum x bodnantense can also pruned once their colourful display has finished. If you have winter pansies and polyanthus, it’s important to remove faded flowers to encourage a fresh flush once the weather warms up. Also remember to keep feeding the birds, make sure they have access to water if bird baths freeze over and trim any deciduous hedges before they start nesting.
If you have them it’s also a good time to clean your greenhouse, cold frames, cloches and flowerpots as you prepare for the growing season ahead. Either Jeyes Fluid or warm, soapy water will suffice. If you intend to grow vegetables, plan your plot to ensure good crop rotation and prevent pests and diseases building up in the soil. Get your seed potatoes and onion sets ordered in good time. We “chit” (encourage to sprout) our seed potatoes in trays in our large polytunnel where it’s cool, light and frost free ahead of beginning to plant them out in a month or so. It’s also a good idea to organise any seeds you intend to sow into date order, so that you know when to get them started.
Although the lockdown has meant the closure of The Garden Gate Project at time of writing, our staff are continuing to care for the plants and progress with improvements to the site. We do not know when we will resume our normal services, but remain confident that nature will ensure the garden looks as spectacular as ever when we do!